Team: Green, Isla, Dunne, Onuoha, Suk-Young, Phillips (Zamora), Mutch, Barton, Fer (Kranjcar), Hoilett, Vargas.
Subs Not Used: McCarthy, Ferdinand, Hill, Wright-Phillips, Henry
Attendance: 34,035 (including 363 R’s fans)
It was not pretty – indeed even to the end it was downright nervy – but Everton took a step in the right direction yesterday with a much-needed victory over Queen’s Park Rangers.
For only the third time in the Premier League this season Roberto Martinez’s team took the three points at Goodison Park and if there were only fleeting glimmers of last season’s attacking fluency, a brilliant goal from Ross Barkley and commanding midfield display from Muhamed Besic ensured it was a deserved win.
It was Barkley’s 20-yard strike that gave Everton an advantage increased subsequently by Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith and although Bobby Zamora pulled a goal back, the Merseysiders had a victory that lifted them three places up to 10th in the Premier League table, above Liverpool on goal difference.
As captain Phil Jagielka had said in his programme notes, the Christmas period is Everton’s opportunity to start climbing the table with no Europa League distractions and fixtures against Southampton, Stoke City and Newcastle.
Yesterday was the right start, although the sight of Mirallas leaving the pitch on a stretcher in the closing minutes after suffering an apparent ankle injury in a challenge from Jordon Mutch was an unwanted setback.
As for Harry Redknapp’s Rangers they remain third from bottom and the only side in the 92-team pyramid without a single away point this season.
The QPR players made a Christmas video miming along to “Merry Xmas Everybody” but a more appropriate choice would have been one of Slade’s earlier No.1 hits “Take Me Bak ‘Ome”.
Their upcoming games against West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace at Loftus Road, either side of a Boxing Day visit to the Emirates, will be crucial if they are to start climbing the table.
Rangers were without Steven Caulker, dropped from the squad after sustaining a cut head in his much publicised mishap at the club’s Christmas lunch. They were also missing the suspended Charlie Austin, their only player to have scored a Premier League goal away from Loftus Road this term, which meant the Chilean Eduardo Vargas leading the line.
He had support from willing runners in Matt Phillips, Leroy Fer and Junior Hoilett and during a positive start by Rangers, Phillips floated an early half-volley over the crossbar after a half-cleared corner.
The opening phase was an illustration of the low confidence in Everton’s ranks after a run of just one win in their last six league fixtures. The home side began last night only three points better off than Burnley in 17th place and looked nervous. There were soon groans around Goodison at their lack of urgency and impetus.
Thankfully for Martinez, he had Barkley in the mood. With Gareth Barry suspended and James McCarthy injured, last night was an opportunity for the re-called 21-year-old to show what he could do in a central midfield role alongside Besic. It was a gamble by Martinez given Barkley’s instinct is always to go forward but the 21-year-old, dropped for the defeat at Manchester City nine days earlier, looked eager to make a point.
QPR were well organised and frustrating Everton yet it was Barkley who sparked the home side into life. His brilliant long pass to Naismith set up the first opening of note for Romelu Lukaku. It was Barkley who then delivered a brilliant opening goal after 33 minutes.
It was his first of the season and a piece of football quite out of place with what had gone before from Everton. Picking up the ball in the centre circle he played a one-two with Lukaku and burst forward to the edge of the box before drilling a shot high into the top-right corner of Rob Green’s net.
Add the tenacity that Besic brought to the home team, and the Bosnian and Barkley both earned the praise that came from Martinez afterwards.
“They are two very young players, but looking at the way they performed today the future that these footballers have is immense,” he said.
Of Barkley’s first goal since May, he added: “Ross Barkley today was a joy to watch (with) the way he scored the first goal. He started the move, he got through the line of QPR’s midfield and the way he finished from outside the box is exceptional.”
If Barkley’s strike brushed off Mauricio Isla on its way in, Mirallas’s free kick for the second goal 10 minutes later was all about a big deflection off Vargas in the defensive wall that completely flat-footed Green.
That two-goal cushion was an invitation for Everton to start playing some football and after Richard Dunne had sliced a shot wide of Tim Howard’s goal, Naismith got their third goal. It all stemmed from a fluffed clearance by Green and ended with Aiden McGeady crossing to the far post where Naismith nodded the ball back across goal and in off Nedum Onuoha on the line.
QPR’s approach play was not bad but there was no finishing touch, underlined when Isla pulled the ball back for Mutch who swept it over the crossbar.
Redknapp was disappointed with the “poor goals” conceded by his team and felt this was a missed opportunity. “The crowd was edgy, they played edgy and I thought we had a real opportunity,” he said.
QPR were well organised and their approach play was not bad but their lack of a finishing touch was underlined when Mutch swept Mauricio Isla’s cutback over the crossbar.
Yet one thing this Everton team cannot do, even with the midfield bite of Besic, is keep clean sheets and with 10 minutes remaining Zamora, on as a substitute, pulled a goal back, turning the loose ball beyond Howard after he had parried a Mutch shot.
Everton substitute Samuel Eto’o then struck a post at the other end but it was already job done.
Simon Hart – The Independent